11 Habits Of People Who Didn’t Receive Positive Reinforcement As a Child, According To Therapist

Didn’t Receive Positive Reinforcement as a child

Positive reinforcement is a powerful way to help kids feel good about their actions and grow into confident adults. It’s like giving a child a thumbs up for sharing their toys, showing them that their good behavior is noticed and appreciated.

This kind of encouragement is crucial because it helps children build a strong sense of self-worth and teaches them to keep doing their best.

However, not everyone gets enough of this positive feedback when they’re young. This can lead to certain habits in adulthood that might be hard to understand without knowing someone’s background. That’s why it’s important to look at these behaviors with empathy and kindness.

Our journey here is to understand the traits of adults who lacked positive reinforcement in their childhood, guided by insights from therapists.

The Importance of Positive Reinforcement in Childhood

What is Positive Reinforcement?

Positive reinforcement is when you praise someone for doing something well, encouraging them to do it again. For a toddler, this could mean getting a smile and a clap for picking up toys without being asked. This makes the child feel good and more likely to repeat the behavior.

Why It’s Important

Using positive reinforcement is key to teaching children. It helps them see challenges as opportunities to learn rather than obstacles. This outlook is essential for success in life, as it encourages trying hard and not giving up.

Not getting enough positive reinforcement can make life harder as people grow up. They might struggle with feeling good about themselves or be afraid to try new things. Understanding this helps us support each other better.

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The Long-term Effects of Negative Reinforcement

The absence of positive feedback and the presence of negative reinforcement during childhood can significantly impact adult behavior and emotional health.

Negative reinforcement, unlike positive reinforcement which rewards good behavior to encourage its repetition, often involves the removal of an unpleasant stimulus to increase a particular behavior.

This approach can lead to adults developing coping mechanisms and traits that might not always be healthy or conducive to personal growth and fulfilling relationships.

When children experience negative reinforcement, they learn to associate certain behaviors with the avoidance of discomfort rather than the attainment of positive outcomes.

For instance, they might learn that staying quiet avoids criticism, rather than speaking up earns praise. This dynamic can foster adults who are more inclined to avoid challenges or withdraw in situations where they could potentially benefit from engagement.

 The long-term effects of relying on negative reinforcement include a range of behaviors and psychological states that therapists frequently encounter.

Firstly, these adults may exhibit a heightened sensitivity to criticism. Having been conditioned to avoid negative outcomes, they can perceive criticism as a significant threat, leading to defensive or avoidant behavior.

Secondly, there might be an overarching tendency towards anxiety, especially in new or uncertain situations. Without positive reinforcement to explore and make mistakes, individuals may fear any scenario that could lead to negative feedback.

Moreover, individuals accustomed to negative reinforcement often struggle with assertiveness. They may have learned that compliance, rather than assertion, is the safer route to avoiding negative consequences.

This lack of assertiveness can affect their ability to advocate for their needs and boundaries, impacting both personal and professional relationships.

Additionally, these adults may demonstrate a lower propensity for risk-taking. The absence of positive reinforcement to encourage stepping out of one’s comfort zone can result in a cautious approach to life, limiting personal and career development opportunities.

They might avoid taking chances, not because of a lack of desire or ability, but due to an ingrained fear of the negative repercussions of failure.

Therapists emphasize the importance of recognizing and addressing these behaviors, advocating for a balanced approach that incorporates positive reinforcement to build self-esteem, encourage healthy risk-taking, and foster a more optimistic outlook on life.

Strategies include reinforcing positive behavior with verbal praise, offering encouragement and support for new endeavors, and creating an environment where mistakes are viewed as learning opportunities rather than failures.

Through understanding and applying the principles of positive reinforcement, individuals can begin to shift away from the defensive patterns established by negative reinforcement, opening the door to a more fulfilling and balanced life.

By addressing the deep-seated effects of negative reinforcement and fostering an environment rich in positive reinforcement, adults can relearn how to navigate the world with confidence and resilience.

This shift not only benefits their personal development but also enhances their interactions and relationships with others, showcasing the profound impact of positive reinforcement on improving behavior and overall well-being.

Learn To Reparent Yourself
Learn To Reparent Yourself

Here Are 11 Habits A Lack of Positive Reinforcement Can Cause…

When children grow up without sufficient positive reinforcement, they often carry certain behaviors into adulthood. These habits, formed in response to a lack of validation and encouragement, can significantly impact an individual’s self-esteem, relationships, and overall approach to life.

From struggling to accept praise to avoiding new experiences, the absence of positive feedback during critical developmental stages fosters a range of behaviors that therapists frequently encounter. Understanding these habits is the first step towards healing and personal growth.

Here, we explore 11 common traits that can arise from a lack of positive reinforcement, shedding light on the underlying causes and offering strategies for overcoming these challenges.

1: Difficulty Accepting Praise

Adults who lacked positive reinforcement as children often struggle to accept compliments. This discomfort stems from a foundation where praise was scarce, making them question the genuineness of accolades received in adulthood. They might deflect compliments, attributing them to luck rather than acknowledging their efforts or achievements.

How to Help: To assist, it’s crucial to provide consistent, genuine praise. Highlight specific behaviors that merit recognition, using examples of positive reinforcement to encourage a more accepting view of compliments. Over time, this can help rebuild their self-esteem, allowing them to see their worth through a clearer lens.

2: Low Self-Esteem

The absence of positive reinforcement often leads to persistent self-doubt and a diminished sense of self-worth. Individuals may harbor a belief that they are incapable of achieving success or that their efforts are always lacking. This mindset can hinder personal growth and the pursuit of goals.

How to Help: Encouraging engagement in activities that align with their interests can gradually build confidence. Celebrating even small victories plays a crucial role in altering their perception, and teaching them to recognize and value their achievements.

3: Perfectionist Tendencies

Aiming for perfection at all costs can be a direct response to not receiving enough positive feedback in childhood. These individuals often believe that only flawless outcomes will earn them the approval they crave, leading to a cycle of high stress and dissatisfaction with anything less than perfection.

How to Help: Emphasizing the benefits of positive reinforcement in learning and growth can shift the focus from the result to the value of the effort itself. Encouraging a mindset where mistakes are seen as opportunities for improvement rather than failures can mitigate the compulsion for perfection.

4: Fear of Failure

Fear of failure is particularly pronounced in those who were not encouraged to experiment and fail during childhood. This fear can prevent them from taking risks or trying new things, limiting their experiences and personal development.

How to Help: Introduce the concept of “positive reinforcement to improve behavior” by setting small, achievable goals that allow for risk-taking within a safe environment. Celebrate the learning that comes from each attempt, regardless of the outcome, to help diminish the fear of failure.

5: Overachieving or Underachieving

Individuals may respond to a lack of positive reinforcement by either pushing themselves excessively to prove their worth (overachieving) or by withdrawing and exerting minimal effort due to a belief that they cannot succeed (underachieving).

How to Help: Recognizing and validating the effort behind their actions, rather than the success or failure of the outcome, can help. Using positive reinforcement to celebrate the process of learning and improvement encourages a healthier balance in striving for achievements.

6: Difficulty Trusting Others

Growing up without consistent positive reinforcement can lead to skepticism about the intentions behind others’ actions. This mistrust can be a barrier to forming close relationships and may stem from a lack of experience with genuine support and encouragement.

How to Help: Building trust requires patience and consistency. Demonstrating reliable and supportive behavior over time can gradually help individuals feel more secure in their relationships.

7: People-Pleasing Behaviors

An ingrained desire to please others at the expense of one’s own needs can develop from a childhood where approval was scarce. This trait often leads to neglecting personal boundaries in favor of seeking external validation.

How to Help: Encouraging assertiveness and the expression of personal needs can counteract people-pleasing tendencies. Highlighting the importance of self-care and personal boundaries can foster a healthier balance between pleasing others and honoring oneself.

8: Difficulty Expressing Emotions

Individuals who did not receive positive reinforcement for expressing their emotions might suppress their feelings, fearing judgment or dismissal. This can lead to challenges in communicating effectively and forming deep, meaningful connections.

How to Help: Creating a safe, non-judgmental space for expression can be beneficial. Encourage them to share their feelings by modeling open communication and validating their emotions when they do open up.

9: Avoidance of Conflict

A reluctance to engage in conflict may originate from an environment where expressing disagreement was not met with understanding or positive reinforcement. This avoidance can hinder effective communication and problem-solving in relationships.

How to Help: Teaching conflict resolution skills and the value of constructive disagreement can empower individuals to address issues directly and respectfully. Reinforcing positive outcomes from healthy conflict can change perceptions over time.

10: Reluctance to Try New Things

The hesitancy to step outside one’s comfort zone can be attributed to a fear of failure or criticism, often rooted in a lack of positive reinforcement for exploring and learning from new experiences.

How to Help: Encourage small steps towards new experiences, reinforcing the idea that curiosity and a willingness to learn are valuable traits. Use positive reinforcement to celebrate these ventures, focusing on the effort and growth rather than solely on success.

11: Harsh Self-Criticism

A critical self-view often reflects internalized messages from childhood where positive reinforcement was insufficient. This can lead to a focus on perceived flaws and failures, overshadowing accomplishments and positive qualities.

How to Help: Teaching the practice of self-compassion and the use of positive self-talk can counteract harsh self-criticism. Encourage the recognition of strengths and achievements as a form of self-reinforcement, fostering a more balanced and forgiving self-perception.

Your Childhood Created The Habit
Your Childhood Created The Negative Habits

Steps Towards Healing and Growth

Overcoming the effects of insufficient positive reinforcement is a transformative journey toward self-acceptance and growth. Here’s a structured approach to facilitate this healing process:

  1. Engage in Positive Self-Talk
    • Replace negative thoughts with positive affirmations.
    • Acknowledge personal strengths and accomplishments daily.
    • Use specific examples of positive reinforcement to shift focus from failures to successes.
  2. Seek Support
    • Surround yourself with friends and family who offer verbal praise and encouragement.
    • Consider professional therapy for structured support and guidance.
    • Create a support network that reflects your worth and achievements.
  3. Practice Self-Compassion
    • Treat yourself with kindness and understanding, as you would a friend.
    • Allow yourself to make mistakes, recognizing that growth comes from challenges.
    • Implement self-care routines that reinforce your value and well-being.
  4. Use Positive Reinforcement
    • Celebrate small victories and efforts to cultivate a sense of achievement.
    • Introduce a reward chart for personal goals to visually affirm progress.
    • Apply specific praise to acknowledge and encourage positive behaviors.
  5. Adopt Positive Parenting Techniques for Self
    • Utilize strategies of positive attention to improve self-esteem and behavior.
    • Focus on creating an environment where positive behaviors are acknowledged and rewarded.
    • Encourage desired behaviors through positive feedback and reinforcement.
  6. Embrace Growth Opportunities
    • Identify areas for personal development and set achievable goals.
    • Approach new experiences with curiosity and openness, using them as opportunities to apply and receive positive reinforcement.
    • Reflect on progress and adjust strategies as needed, keeping the focus on long-term benefits and self-improvement.

By integrating these positive reinforcement techniques into your daily routine, you can begin to shift away from the negative impacts of insufficient positive reinforcement.

This approach not only fosters a healthier self-image but also enhances your interactions with others. Remember, the journey toward healing and growth is ongoing, and every step forward is a victory worth celebrating.


Understanding the habits formed by a lack of positive reinforcement in childhood is the first step toward growth and healing.

By applying the principles of positive reinforcement in our interactions with ourselves and others, we can foster healthier relationships and a more positive self-image. Remember, it’s never too late to change and grow.

Let’s be kind and supportive to ourselves and those around us as we navigate the journey of self-improvement together.

Isabella Hartley

Contributor @ createhighervibrations.com

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Isabella Hartley

Meet Isabella Hartley, a dedicated Relationship Coach and Yoga Instructor with a Master’s Degree in Spiritual Psychology and 8 years of experience in trauma healing. Isabella’s unique approach to wellness combines deep psychological insights with practical relationship guidance and transformative yoga practices. She’s passionate about empowering others to find self-love and understanding, paving the way for holistic healing and richer, more meaningful connections. Isabella’s philosophy centers on nurturing the inner light within each individual, helping them discover and cherish their path to emotional wellness.